Sylvan Esso: “What Now” Album Review

Written By: Andrew Sedo


Since the release of their eponymous debut electro-folk mish-mash Sylvan Esso, fans have been awaiting a natural evolution. The 2015 record has aged well as hits like “Hey Mami”, “Coffee”, and “Wolf” remain effortlessly playable. The second release from the duo, comprised of back-trails folk revivalist Mountain Man’s Amelia Meath, and Megafaun’s creative electric bassmaster Nick Sanborn, seeks to elevate the group from necessary novelty to a seriously complimentary endeavor. Since Sylvan Esso hit the airwaves with a series of enjoyably vapid attempts at fusing folk purity and danceable beats for hipsters to play over the crickets at their summer cookouts, the question became, is there room for growth? The answer is, ironically (or perhaps fittingly), 2017’s What Now.

Unquestionably, Meath remains a vocal superstar, with a fluttery focus that can cut sharply or float softly through a myriad of genres. Understandably, Sandborn seems to have melded more to his muse as the records sound less like hasty collections of Mountain Man synthpop remixes than their previous collaborative effort. The opening track “Sound”, shows the group’s new willingness to experiment beyond the boundaries of head bobbing pop.

Furthermore, the stinging rebuke of mass-produced music on the not-so-subtly titled “Radio”, features the pyrotechnically jarring lyric “Well don’t you look good sucking American dick / You’re so surprised they like you / You’re so cute and so quick” which may be about as close to as a folk singer has ever come to dropping the proverbial mic. The whole song co-opts the power of the traditional pop composition into a protest of industrialized music and those who regularly perform it. In this way, Sylvan Esso has turned a corner as the macabre “Die Young” also uses lowered expectations to express an avant garde sentiment. In the chorus, Meath reveals that her plan for a swift suicide is delayed by an unexpected love, “I was gonna die young / Now I gotta wait for you, honey” which she delivers in a simultaneously saccharine and shocking fashion.

Regardless of what you think of obvious returns to form “Kick, Jump, Twist” and “Just Dancing”, Meath’s vocal skills are nearly irresistible. When coupled with Sanborn’s ear for the impulsively movable, only people who’ve decided they hate the record before it’s started can stay still. Thusly, What Now ends as more of a question than an answer.

Obviously, the group has begun taking on more complex themes and started lashing out and their undeserved kiddie pool image in the indie community. Can the duo move beyond their absolutely pleasing qualities to make something people have to seriously consider? It appears, they are moving in that direction. However, it takes a overly self-significant soul to not enjoy the talents of the group as a whole and see the potential for something special.